Quite an Undertaking: Violet Guymer's Story - True Tales from the Mortuary

Quite an Undertaking: Violet Guymer's Story - True Tales from the Mortuary

ABOUT Elizabeth Lycar

Elizabeth Lycar



The Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 took Violet’s young husband, leaving her penniless with a brood of small children. The youngest was not yet one year old, and she was expecting the sixth. Violet and her family had settled in a remote, isolated northern area that was booming and becoming quickly inhabited by optimistic homesteaders—most of them from England. She and her family too, had immigrated from Britain, having just arrived in Canada a few years earlier, also with high hopes for the future. The area was developing at a rapid rate; some said it would eventually be bigger than Chicago, which was the impetus for the growth and development of the railroad. But now her husband, the town’s undertaker, was dead and soon after, her unborn baby died. With her hopes dashed, she set to work to build a life for herself and her remaining children. In spite of one disaster after another, Violet never lost her sense of humor or her hope. She is an example of a strong woman who personifies perseverance and courage.

Temporarily leaving her family, Violet went south to learn the trade of embalming and operating a funeral home at a time when it was unseemly for a woman to be in business. And it seemed the coroner and others were trying to bankrupt her and take her home and her company. But Vi was tough…she had to be, and sometimes a little bit impulsive, a trait that lead to several misunderstandings that affected both Violet and her children adversely.

This book is written as a series of short stories with a common thread: it is a glimpse into some of the more tragic and untimely deaths that touched the young undertaker, Violet Guymer and her family for twenty years in the far north. During her career as a mortician in the early 1900's, Violet had to bury countless numbers of babies and small children; there was the unforgettable day when four small children drowned while trying to save their grandfather. Rough-and-tumble characters were streaming north to make their fortunes in the early 1900's: miners, prospectors and trappers. She had to thaw out a frozen man in her kitchen. She was trapped under the body of another until help arrived hours later. She was witness to a chilling crime that took place in the morgue. You will read about a famous Alaskan dog sledder who died along with his dogs in the most gruesome manner and the flying aces that crashed their planes on the street of her little town, one of them falling out of the cockpit while barnstorming with a child aboard…her own children's friend. Then there were the homesteaders coming from England... people like herself, with high hopes for the future—a future that often didn't materialize. Violet performed the duties of this profession, without that requisite and essential utility: waterworks, because she lived on the “wrong” side of the railroad tracks.

Many of the stories you will read in this book are stranger than fiction. Violet’s determination and resilience is demonstrated many times as she endures trials and harassment, but she soldiered on for years under the most unimaginable conditions and tests of her character. In spite of the slightly macabre subject of this book, you will find there are times you will chuckle and find yourself feeling inspired by her life and her children's lives and experiences in the far north in the early 1900's.


“Browse through any of the dozens of e-publishing sites and you may find a treasure like “Quite an Undertaking…” USA Today

“The book is written with honesty, humour and a good editor. A novelist will find some intriguing stories and characters. An historian will discover a heretofore, untold aspect of life in northern Manitoba. But luckiest is the reader who can enjoy it for its lovely, engaging character." Winnipeg Free Press

“We found the story of Violet Guymer to be a totally engrossing one and I was very sorry when it finished.” A. Nash, Concordia University